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Bring the Missing in Order
Chapters 2 and 3 are the heart of this letter. They belong together. In chapter 2 Paul presents the life of the Lord Jesus on the earth as He was in those days. In chapter 3 he shows the Lord Jesus in heaven as He is there now.
In chapter 2 he draws the attention of the Philippians (and ours) to the mind of the Lord. In this chapter we are also given examples of men who had the mind of Christ. The examples are Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus.
Why is the mind of Christ so emphasized here? It is because certain things were not quite in order with the Philippians. Paul wanted to guide them there. This is the real love which is not blind to the imperfections in others. Genuine love goes further in which it is not only grateful for the friendship and help received but it is also ready to point out what could be better. Genuine love also knows in what way these imperfections must be pointed out. If it is done in the wrong ways and means people will be discouraged. The admonition will not reach. Paul links it with what they have already done well. That is an important starting point when you want to admonish or encourage anyone.
Philippians 2:1. In Philippians 2:2-Numbers : there are certain areas which the Philippians could obviously improve upon. But Paul does not begin with that. He starts in an exceptional way. You should know that the word “if” in the beginning of Philippians 2:1, shows not a possibility but a certainty. We can understand and read this as ‘because’. Paul had experienced the compassion of the Philippians. He had experienced consolation, comfort and fellowship. He had felt their affection and mercy. That was expressed in the gift they had sent him. What a joy it had given him! He appreciated that a lot.
The way the Philippians expressed their solidarity with Paul showed much of God and Christ. Paul did not simply receive ‘encouragement’, but “encouragement in Christ”. The Philippians did that in such a way that Christ became more precious to him. He also did not simply receive ‘consolation’ but he felt God’s “consolation of love”. The ‘fellowship’ he enjoyed was not human sympathy but it was the “fellowship of the Spirit”.
The triune God was revealed to Paul through what the Philippians did. There he saw their inner feelings. These feelings were the feelings of the Lord Himself of which He was full of (James 5:11). Is this also your desire for the needy brothers and sisters?
Philippians 2:2. Against the background of all that they had done for him and meant for him he exhorts them now in a loving way. All the fine feelings they had for him in their hearts made him happy. They can, however, make him even more joyful and happier. There is something missing in them still. Sure he delights in their love for him. What he wants more is that they had this love one for another. If they proved this, his joy would be complete.
He looks for a way that makes their heart willing to resolve the disagreement that arose during his absence. Please note that he does not blame them for their disunity. In the relationship Paul had with the Philippians it was not appropriate to blame them. He expresses his love for them and his appreciation of their love for him. He exhorts them in such a way that would make clear that their interests are the issue here.
You see that exhortations are always needed. You see them in every letter, and even in this which is addressed to the church in which at first glance everything seems to be alright. There could be much appreciation, but it could always be better; it is never perfect. Exhortation should make us alert against self-sufficiency. It can arise suddenly, when we discover, that certain wrong things are not among us, which we find elsewhere. Then the danger is when we think that exhortation is not necessary.
The first thing was that they were not “of the same mind”, which does not mean that all should have the same thinking. It means that their minds are in the same direction, and that there are no conflicting interests. All their minds and interests are fixed on the Person of Christ.
That is like what we read in 1 Corinthians 1, “speak the same thing” (1 Corinthians 1:10). That does not mean that all speak the same words, but all speak of the one Person: Christ. But each one does it in his own way. One could say that in 1 Corinthians 1 it is all about the confession with the mouth and here in Philippians it is about what is in the heart. Here it goes deeper, it goes to the source. Every believer who belongs to a fellowship of believers must strive to glorify Christ. Otherwise there arises disagreement.
Then we have no more “the same love”. If Christ is not the object of your heart, your love will turn towards other things. The gap in the believers’ fellowship widens. You can see this in the lack of unanimity. Harmony simply disappears. Each goes more and more his own way and is increasingly busy with his own things. No one thinks of the one thing, that is Christ, any more. To be like-minded means to have the same thoughts and feelings. The one thing means the object on which the believers unanimously direct their thoughts and about which they have the same thoughts and feelings.
Philippians 2:3. When Christ is not any more the Center in the life of the believers, easily factions arise. Own interests and own honor begin to play their roles. Everyone speaks and works for his own position and thereby seeks the recognition of others. Such efforts are vain, empty and meaningless. The fame one seeks in this way passes away. That is the kind of fame of the world champions. Short-time recognition and momentary fame recede into the dust of oblivion. The highest glory the believer has is when he is praised by the Lord.
To earn this fame you must learn to be humble. Humility is a rare virtue. How rare, you see this in debates and conflicts among politicians, even in normal, daily contacts. Often people attempt to decry others to sell themselves as the best. This tendency is common among us all. Real humility is found only in the presence of God. We must learn to be humble. We can learn it from the Lord Jesus (Matthew 11:29). Only in His presence we learn to esteem others better than ourselves.
In His presence we see who we are ourselves and what others are for Him. It is about practical Christian life, and that will be seen best where Christ is the most visible. We can know others by their outward expression and we know ourselves what we are in our hearts. We see how others show love, and others are peacemakers. We see that it is lacking in us. Should we not then esteem others? It is not about the gift that someone else has, but the good things you notice. Paul assumes that you have an eye for it.
The other is the one who is different from you. He has received other things from God and has been called for something different than you. You are therefore urged to esteem the other for that, even with more respect than you have for yourself, so that you can at the same time efface your own interests.
Philippians 2:4. Paul goes a step further. He says that you should not only esteem others but that you also should see their interests and look out for them. In other words he means that it is expected of you that you commit yourself to what others need so that they can live better as Christians and also become more similar to the Lord Jesus. To see the others so and consider them accordingly is only possible when you look on the Lord Jesus Christ. Then only you can seek and see the interests of others.
Philippians 2:5. Therefore Paul wants to present Jesus Christ to you. He does that – of course inspired by the Holy Spirit – in an impressive way. Here you have to bear in mind that all the glories of the Lord Jesus Paul speaks about is given for our admonition. The Lord desires that we have the same attitude or mind as He had. This mind must be the basis for all your thoughts and actions.
All that is said about the Lord Jesus Christ here can bring you down to worship. Often that is the result when He is so presented to you. Nevertheless this is not primarily intended here. The intention is that with every step you see Him do, you ask, what His mind was, as He did it when He was on the earth; you shall then compare it with your own mind.
The mind of Christ will never become yours if you take the law as the standard. Only the example of the Lord Jesus leads to the desired goal. God presents to us a Person Who has all the good pleasure of His heart, so that He can find what in our life speaks of Him.
Now read Philippians 2:1-5 again.
Reflection: What would you like to improve in others and how will you achieve that?
The Mind of the Lord Jesus
Philippians 2:6. You see the mind of the Lord Jesus in these verses and it deserves your full attention. We must take up this mind and make it our own. Then we will be able to do what is said in the previous verses. And then we can solve all our conflicts and continue to live in unity.
The mind of the Lord is expressed in His humiliation. Every detail of His way down was a humiliation for Him. He could not have started higher and could not end deeper. Every step of His humiliation, he did entirely voluntarily. But He didn’t do every step downwards to show how very much He humbled Himself. What He did was constantly present in his life on the earth. You see the meaning of the word emptied, or ‘made Himself of no reputation’. That means to relinquish His heavenly status. He emptied Himself of all that He possessed as God. He used none of it for His own interests.
When He came to the earth there was no sign of His Divine glory (Isaiah 53:3). His heart was filled with the wonderful mind described here. His whole existence on this earth was filled with this reality. Every word and action came out of it. Sometimes it is possible to see such attitude in a believer. But to what extent are we filled with it?
The description begins with the fact that He was “in the form of God”. This makes it clear that He was truly God. He also remained God when He became Man; for God cannot cease to be God. Nevertheless, God has the right and the possibility to reveal Himself in a way that is appropriate for the circumstances. His humiliation is proof that He is God, because only God has the sovereign right to conceal His absolute Divinity in this way. He did that and it was the result of His love. He remained in the form of God even when He was on the earth. He did not relinquish His Divinity, but all his rights and privileges, which He could have claimed while on the earth. Where He shows His Divine power, that never happens for Himself, but always for others, and never independent of God.
Because He was God, it meant no robbery to Him to consider being equal with God. He did not lay claim to what not belonged to Himself. The Lord Jesus was God and He was God the eternal Son. He had pre-existence with the Father before the world was (John 1:1; John 17:5). He was with the Father before the world was. He did not consider what He was from eternity as robbery in terms of profit. Long ago the serpent lured Adam to be equal with God. Adam was not and therefore he attempted to rob what he had not. The last Adam, the Lord Jesus, was God. He did not consider it robbery, but He emptied Himself. The Greek word for robbery means not only something that can be stolen, but it also means something that is precious which one does not easily give up. That precious thing, His Deity, He gave up outwardly, for He wanted to be born in “the likeness of man”.
Philippians 2:7. He had to partake of His own creation and minister as a Bond-servant in His own creation. Can one imagine a greater contrast? He was the Ruler but He became the Bond-servant. He, Who gave orders, received them now Himself. Is it not one of the biggest problems for you and me to give up our rights and serve another? The Lord Jesus did that. He effaced Himself fully. He is our example and we can learn it only from Him.
It is also very important to see how His being a Bond-servant is intertwined fully with His being a Man. He could have first come to the earth as human being and then later He could have decided to be a bond-servant. But He did not do that. Exactly as He was and is in the form of God, indicating His essential and veritable Deity, He took upon Himself the form of a bondservant. He did not wear the clothing of a Bond-servant and played the role of a bond-servant. He did not pretend Himself to be a bond-servant. No. He was essentially and truly a Bond-servant, both inwardly and outwardly. The essence of His nature was obedience, the very character that makes a bondservant.
It goes even further: He always remains a Bond-servant (Luke 12:37), just as this perfect Person always will remain Man. He did not take up the form of God because He was God; but He took the form of a bondservant because that is what He became. The mind of serving and being a Bond-servant is very beautifully portrayed in the foot-washing in John 13 (John 13:1-1 Kings :; cf. Luke 22:27). Once again: He is our Example. Just as He came to us as a Bond-servant in the servant’s clothing we also should act towards one another in readiness to serve one another in humility (1 Peter 5:5). We do not quickly wear the clothing of a servant. It does not suit us. We do not feel comfortable in it. Or do we?
Philippians 2:8. The emphasis here is on the Lord Jesus as Man. He was found in appearance as a man. That He was outwardly “found in appearance as a man”, does not refer primarily to what other people found in Him, but what God found in Him. God saw in the Lord Jesus a Man as He wished to see him. He was full of joy about all that was visible in Him from the outside – every action, every word, and His whole behavior. Therefore He gave His testimony from heaven: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
He was the Man who befitted everything what God intended man to be. He was truly Man and not God in a human shell. He not only looked like a man, but He was fully in the likeness of him (Romans 8:3) yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). People could see and hear Him, and they could understand what He said and did. He was (and still is) truly Man with a human spirit, a human soul, and a human body.
When He was on the earth, He was not conspicuous among men. He did not run around with a halo so that everyone could see Him as Someone special. When He was taken into custody, Judas had to show the enemies in a particular way Whom to capture (Matthew 26:48). People around Him saw that He was tired, hungry, and thirsty. He knew all human weaknesses.
As a Man He was indeed born in a quite unique way – He was truly Man by His birth from Mary – but He was not begotten by a sinful father; He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35). That did not change His complete and voluntary humiliation, a humiliation that had not yet reached its end. Is it not difficult for us to go our way unobtrusively? He could have surrounded Himself with honor when He entered His creation. He could have surrounded Himself during His life time on earth with all what impressed people around him. Yet He decided to begin His life on the earth in a despised and secluded spot, Nazareth, in an insignificant family.
To become Man was one step of humiliation for Him and to become Bond-servant is another step of humiliation. But His humiliation as Man and Bond-servant was not enough. He could stoop even lower. So He went deeper. He could have returned to His Father after a finished service. He did not need to die. But He became obedient unto death, yes, even the death on the cross. He made Himself completely nothing. He thought only of others.
He, Who did not know obedience, was obedient unto death. The Lord Jesus did not know obedience. In heaven He was not familiar with it. There He gave commands to angels and they obeyed Him (Hebrews 1:7). For the Lord Jesus learning obedience was something different from how we learn it. By nature we are disobedient (Ephesians 5:6). We learn obedience by correction. It was not so with Him. He was never needed to be corrected in anything. With Him there was no insubordination; and there was nothing that was not subordinate.
For Him to learn to be obedient meant to take up a position in which He had to obey. He never was in a position that demanded obedience. He learned that when He came to the earth (Hebrews 5:8).
His obedience culminated in His death. His death was the ultimate obedience, the end point. Nothing more could come thereafter. But His humiliation could go still further and show how His obedience ended up unprecedented. It is by death on the cross, the most horrible and the most despicable way a man could die. Only a disobedient slave was sentenced to such a death. You cannot imagine a death that is more humiliating than this. The perfect Bond-servant died this death. Voluntarily and with no other desire than to be perfectly obedient He finished His race this way on this earth.
He always took the lowest place: with his birth in Bethlehem, with His dealings with people during His life time and finally even in his death. He allowed that those, whom He exclusively wanted to serve, brought Him to death by the most dishonorable way. He, Who was exalted so high, went through the way to the deepest humiliation. He relinquished all rights that were His own, in heaven as well as on the earth, to serve His enemies. He came down from great heights, voluntarily, driven by the love for His God and Father. Should not this great humility make you and me ready to make a relatively small step down to serve others? This is the mind which is proper for us.
Now read Philippians 2:6-8 again.
Reflection: Consider again the steps of humility, by which the Lord Jesus went down. Praise Him for that and ask Him to help you to follow His example in His mind.
The Exaltation of the Lord Jesus
Philippians 2:9. “He who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). This is a universally applicable verse, but it is particularly appropriate to the Lord Jesus. You saw in the previous passage in what an impressive way the Lord Jesus humbled Himself. Here I would like to reiterate the great contrast between Him, Who is called “the last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45) and the first Adam. The first Adam wanted to exalt himself by listening to satan who tricked Eve to believe that man would become like God (Genesis 3:5). The result was shame, hiding themselves from God, and to be driven out of Paradise. What a humiliation! ”For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled” (Luke 14:11).
And then we have not yet spoken about the circumstances in which obedience was put to the test. The first Adam was in ideal circumstances where he could be obedient. He saw the goodness of God all around him. The last Adam was in the most adverse circumstances which could lead Him to disobedience. All around Him He saw sin and the consequences of sin. The contrast you discover between the first and the last Adam magnifies your admiration for the Lord Jesus.
The greatest recognition comes from God. He saw with great pleasure the way of humiliation that the Lord Jesus went through voluntarily. He understood perfectly well all the feelings of His Son as He went that way. Everything in the Son was focused on the Father. Could God have answered in a way other than exalting Him above all, after this appalling humiliation?
The Lord Jesus humiliated Himself but He did not exalt Himself. This is another aspect that again augments His glory as Man. He never sought His own glory (John 8:50). The Father glorified His Son (John 13:32). He raised Him from the dead and gave Him a place of honor at His right hand and crowned Him “because of the suffering of death … with glory and honor” (Hebrews 2:9).
It was impossible for God to leave Him in death. He deserved to be resurrected because He proved Himself perfect in everything. That is why He “was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father” (Romans 6:4). As Man the Lord Jesus is exalted to the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven by the righteous act of God. When the Lord Jesus became Man and came to the earth, God came down in His love. On the other hand the exaltation is not a matter of love but of righteousness. He is righteously entitled to the highest place of honor and majesty.
In conjunction with the highest place of honor above all, God also has “given Him the name which is above every name”. With this Name God shows His personal pleasure in the Man Jesus Christ. Paul says nothing about the exact meaning of this Name. Perhaps this name is the name “which no one knows except Himself” (Revelation 19:12). That might be an appropriate reward for the one who overcomes (Revelation 2:7). Possibly it is the name “Lord” in Philippians 2:11. It is not the name Jesus; for this name He already received at His birth (Matthew 1:21). We are talking about the name which He received as the Man by exalted God.
Since no other information is given about the Name, the emphasis seems to be on the fact of naming i.e. on the meaning of the word name. In the scripture the name expresses the inner being of a person. Well, no one knows the Son except the Father (Matthew 11:27). The name says something about the person. No one but God knows the nature of His Son who lived in perfect obedience to God on this earth while being also Himself God. That secret cannot be understood by people and it will remain hidden eternally.
It could be that the Name, which was given to Him by God, connects to that because He never before was as Man in heaven. Never before was there a man in heaven who received the highest place of honor and reputation as reward. Authority is also connected with His Name. Even when the Lord Jesus speaks about being “gathered together in My Name” (Matthew 18:20) no name is mentioned. This term focuses our attention on the recognition of His authority. The Name that He received from God expresses that He is the One Who is exalted above all creatures and that He has authority over them. Another aspect is that the name has to do with the fame and reputation of a person. The Bible often speaks about men of renown or name (Genesis 6:4; Numbers 16:2).
Philippians 2:10. The name of the Lord Jesus will fill all the earth during the millennium (Psalms 8:1; Psalms 8:9). “At the name of Jesus” every knee bows one day. That is an added compensation that God gives to the Lord Jesus. When the name Jesus is used without the addition of, for example, Lord or Christ it is a reminder that the Lord Jesus was here on the earth. It is the name that is reminiscent of His humiliation.
As He was on the earth He was known as Jesus to His surroundings. He then was not honored. He was derided and abused, mocked and discarded, and finally murdered. But He will come back one day. Then it will not be again as a lowly man. No, then comes the Lord Jesus “from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-Ruth :). Then there is no more possibility to bow before Him voluntarily as it is still possible now.
In Isaiah 45 we read that every knee shall bow before God, Yahweh (Isaiah 45:21-:). Here we read that every knee shall bow before the Lord Jesus. This is one of the proofs that the Lord Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, is the same Yahweh Who in the Old Testament chose Israel as His people. In Isaiah 45 it refers only to every knee on the earth. Here in Philippians 2 the sphere of homage is extended to heaven, and to the area under the earth. Not a single knee can escape this homage.
“Every knee” emphasizes that it is about every individual. Each person will personally and very consciously bow before Him. That means every high priest and scribe who saw in Him a rival, a threat to their own position among people. That is why they did not want Him and constantly sought after an opportunity to kill Him. Also Judas who betrayed Him will bow his knee before Him. Pilate will bow his knee before Him. He knew that the Lord Jesus was innocent and yet he handed Him over to be crucified.
Every man everywhere will bow before Him. “In heaven” every creature will do so with great assent and full of joy. His praises will ring through eternity. Also “on earth” everyone will honor Him, although in the millennium many people will do that hypocritically (Psalms 18:44). In eternity, when God dwells among men, all on earth will declare the praises of the Lord Jesus. And also “under the earth” every living being will bow its knee before Him. All the unbelievers along with the devil and his henchmen and everyone present will bow before Him. They cannot do anything else but bow down, even if grudgingly, before the One Who once stood against all odds.
An example of forced worship is found in the book of Esther. A certain Haman is out to kill Mordecai who is a type or foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus, because Mordecai refuses to bow before him. When it is proved that Mordecai saved the life of the king, the king wants to honor him for that. God ensures that Haman is forced to do that (Esther 6:1-1 Kings :). In the same way God ensures that the Lord Jesus receives the honor He deserves for all that He has done.
Philippians 2:11. The bent knee of every creature shows the attitude of homage. But it does not stop with that. Also the tongue of every creature comes in motion. It will be said aloud that the once humbled Jesus is “Lord”. No one will doubt that He has all authority in His hands. Any doubt about it will then completely be disappeared.
For you who believe, it is already a reality that God has given Him “all authority ... in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18), although you see in the world around you everything is not yet in subjection under his feet (Hebrews 2:8). When you confess Him as Lord now, you are but an exception. But then this will be over. Then one hears no more an opposite voice. It is not because such a voice will be overruled but there is simply no such dissenting voice. Every knee and every tongue leaves no exception.
And this massive and general homage will be given to God the Father through Him. What the Lord Jesus has done and what God has done for Him will be to the glory of God the Father for all eternity. Do you still know the reason for this impressive Example? To show us what a mind the Lord Jesus had on the earth, a mind we must have too. When you see how God rewards and what its corresponding result is in eternity, does it not spur you on to make this mind your own? For me it does and undoubtedly it does for you also.
Now read Philippians 2:9-11 again.
Reflection: Say to God that you are in perfect agreement with the exaltation of the Lord Jesus.
Philippians 2:12. In the preceding verses you saw the Lord Jesus. I think you should have felt just like me. When you see Him, you forget all and you are completely engrossed in Him. Now Paul brings you back to the reality of life. And that is the same reality of life the Lord Jesus lived in.
Therefore what Paul now says is connected with the previous. So he begins Philippians 2:12 with “therefore”. He focuses on the believers in Philippi whom he calls “my beloved”, a beautiful and above all a true form of address. He does not do that to flatter them, but he stresses the deep love he has for them. They are the objects of his loving care. In his care for them he wants them to implement in practice what he told them about Christ.
The obedience of Christ served them as a model. Now they should follow. He appeals to this by pointing out to their obedience they had already shown when he was with them. When you remind someone of the good results he had already achieved he will be persuaded to give his best.
Perhaps for the Philippians it could have been relatively easy to be obedient to the Word of God when Paul was with them. He fought for them at that time. You may recognize that. When someone supports your cause and is a good role model for you, it has an encouraging effect on you. If such a person is no longer there, then the danger is that you fall asleep. Paul is no longer with them. Now they must fight alone and “work out” their own “salvation”. They could no longer leave this to Paul. Now it is a matter of their own commitment to work out their salvation to the finish.
Salvation here and elsewhere in the letter is of the future. It refers to a situation where there are no more threats which can block our life of faith, and where there is no enemy to be feared. We have not reached this far as long as we are on the earth. To reach the destination safely you will have to use all your energy. The word work out is used for working in a field where the work is never finished. Weeds are always there to be pulled out; for instance condemning evil thoughts.
This working out must be done “with fear and trembling”. This makes us aware of the fact that this is not something you just do. You can feel powerless to confront the dangers which make the way so cumbersome.
Nevertheless it is your responsibility that you commit yourself to reach the goal safe and well. When you really live with the Lord and live for Him, then that will be your intense desire. You will also find that you are not able to deal with the dangers that threaten your life. You fear and tremble when you balance the circumstances through which you are going, against your own strength.
Philippians 2:13. But then you get a great encouragement. All is proof that God works in you. You are not left to yourself and you are not dependent on your own strength. For the Philippians the apostle was not there any longer but God was very much there (Acts 20:32). He remained with them and it was He who worked in them. It is His pleasure to bring people to the place of salvation with Himself. He gives them the necessary strength to reach the goal (cp. Hebrews 13:21).
So here you see a close connection between your own responsibility and the work of God. How it works exactly cannot be explained. One thing is certain. When you do what God wants you to do He gives you the power to accomplish it. That applies to any situation you go through.
Philippians 2:14. A major obstacle on the way to final salvation, Paul says, is “grumbling or disputing”. The history of the Israelites, the earthly people of God, gives a few examples of these utterances during their wilderness journey (1 Corinthians 10:10; Exodus 14:11; Exodus 15:24Exodus 16:2; Exodus 17:3 Numbers 14:2; Numbers 16:11). This evil also reflected itself in the very first days of the church (Acts 6:1). It lies dormant in all of us. It is the feeling of dissatisfaction and discrimination as if you are the only one who always undeservedly received the blow. You think that you always have to do the least of the jobs and when you do something good you do not get the recognition that you deserve.
The step from complaining to disputing is taken quickly. You cannot accept anything unless the matter is first brought to the discussion table and consensus reached with the majority. Often this gives rise to dissensions and dissatisfaction as the mind of the Lord is given the back seat and the like mind with one another vanishes completely.
Since Paul so clearly sees through, he urges to do “all things without grumbling or disputing”. Therefore not only in things in which you see the benefits and receive the necessary recognition, but in all things, and in this context, all that is conducive to the same mind. Remember the example of the Lord Jesus.
Philippians 2:15. When there is no room for grumbling and disputing, then the way is clear for all positive expressions which are mentioned below, and which describe exactly what Christ Himself showed. So the church – every individual member – should always act whatever be the circumstances.
“Blameless” means that there is nothing in your life which someone can point his finger at. This refers to the outer. “Innocent” means unmixed, and that refers to the inner character where there is only one desire and not a desire to want from both sides. You can see these two features clearly in the Lord Jesus. Nevertheless here the matter is not about Him but about you.
Paul continues. He says to the Philippians – and thus also to you and me – that they are “children of God above reproach”. Above reproach doesn’t mean that no one can ever say anything wrong about you. But what is the exact reason? Here you are spoken to as a child of God. You are a child of God because you are born of Him. Therefore you have His nature (2 Peter 1:4). The nature of God is light and love (1 John 1:5; 1 John 4:81 John 4:16). This must be visible in your life. When something of your old nature is visible, then you are no longer without fault. Then people have something to point at, and God also has something to point at.
In your old life you were not distinguished from a “crooked and perverse generation”. You were part of a generation, a kind of people, who seduce others to bad deeds. Now you no longer belong to it. But you stand in the midst of it. It is now God’s intention that you shine as a light in the midst of these people. As a child of God you are a light bearer in a world which is shrouded in darkness and is excluded from any divine light.
The world has rejected the true light (John 1:5). God in His mercy has not taken away all the light from the world. Now we, the children of God, are “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).
Philippians 2:16. And how can people around you perceive the light? That is when you present “the word of life”, that means when you show Christ in your life (1 John 1:1-Exodus :). In John 1 you also do find that special combination of light and life (John 1:4).
After dealing with the relationship of the Philippians with one another, Paul is now talking about their behavior in the world. You see how close one is linked to the other. When the believers disagree, it is something that does not go unnoticed in the world. We must be ashamed of any disunity. To prevent disunity it indeed is necessary to go to the lowest possible level to accommodate the other person. The need for separation from believers in the case of sin is not the issue here. This is clearly spoken of in other letters. But in this case it is about my mind which must be undisputed as for God, as for fellow believers and as for the world.
Paul connects the practice of the Philippians with the responsibility he has to give an account before the judgment seat of Christ. It took him a lot to bring Christ to the Philippians and to keep them in the way of faith. He did “run” for it. Paul makes reference to the discipline of the Olympic Games. The participants submitted to a ten month of strict abstinence and hard training.
He did “toil” for them. The word means that he exerted himself physically and mentally and so he was severely fatigued. It cannot be true that all this was “in vain”. Should it be so that the Philippians should abandon? This persuasive appeal of a man who is so committed to them cannot remain unanswered. Besides harm to their own soul and dishonor to the Lord Jesus, it would mean a terrible ingratitude to this man as they owed him so much.
Now read Philippians 2:12-16 again.
Reflection: What leads you to grumbling quickly and how well are you equipped against it?
Paul Sets Aside His Own Interests
Philippians 2:17. The last section ended with the fame which Paul wanted to have through the Philippians’ way of life. You might think: Does not Paul seek a bit of his own interests? But we are freed from this thought in the first verse of this passage. In this he speaks about two kinds of offerings. First he calls himself “a drink offering” and then he speaks about the “sacrifice” of the faith of the Philippians.
In order to understand what he means you must know something of the offerings in the Old Testament. The people of Israel were acquainted with a wide range of sacrificial offerings. The book of Leviticus is largely devoted to those offerings which the people could bring and in some cases must bring. Offerings are mentioned frequently also in other books of the Bible. Offerings were in different forms. People could offer different kinds of animals. People could also sacrifice something other than an animal. For instance a drink offering, with which Paul compares himself, is an offering that is made of wine.
The wine is poured on the burnt (or main) offering (Numbers 15:1-2 Kings :). It was an addition but at the same time a very valuable offering. Wine is a symbol of joy (Judges 9:13). All offerings point towards the Lord Jesus. The drink offering is reminiscent of the joy with which the Lord Jesus offered Himself. God desires that we also think of that when we bring Him offerings. Bringing offerings to God means we tell Him how much we admire the Lord Jesus.
Paul understood this well. He applies this even to his own life. He wanted to be a drink offering. Through his death he wanted to give God an additional reason to rejoice over and above the joy which He already enjoyed through the offering of the Philippians (Philippians 2:17). It was also a joy for Paul when he thought that he had given his whole life for others – that also included the Philippians – to bring them to God as an offering (Romans 15:16).
The apostle sees their complete faith and service as a sacrifice for God. They presented their bodies a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). This for him is the main offering. Their faith was shown in the fact that they sacrificed themselves and served God and others. Paul values this more than his life. His martyrdom would be poured out as a much smaller offering on their faith (2 Timothy 4:6).
Paul was not seeking his own glory. His work would be a kind of supplement to that of the Philippians. He was content with that position. He could so speak because he did not think of his own interest but only of that of the others (Philippians 2:4). He followed the example of the Lord Jesus which he had presented to them earlier. In this way he himself became a role model for the Philippians.
When Paul thinks of how they practice their faith, which means that they present their life as an offering to God, his heart overflows with joy. That is the essence of his life. He longs to see these results in them to whom he brought the gospel and to whom he had given instruction. Then God is honored and He is pleased with them. Then there is also an abundance of joy in him when he thinks of his death. He does everything to ensure that Christ is visible in the lives of believers to the joy of God. He takes part in this joy.
Philippians 2:18. He calls the Philippians to rejoice with him. Their faith and his are one. Their common ministry was to the good pleasure of God to Whom they brought this offering. In your life if you would see to it that your faith is coupled with the faith of others and the good mutual effects it has, you rise beyond your circumstances. You will be like Paul, a man who had every reason to be sad, but rejoices himself and calls others to rejoice.
Paul will not say that a believer must be constantly in jubilant mood. A short time later he speaks about sorrow upon sorrow (Philippians 2:27). His joy therefore was not an extravagant spiritual emotion. He could be happy and sad at the same time (2 Corinthians 6:10). When he saw the circumstances he was sorrowful. When he saw the Lord he was happy. Circumstances might change but the Lord does not change. That is why his heart was always joyful and it was not necessary for him to sink in sorrow.
Philippians 2:19. Following the examples of dedication you saw in the Lord Jesus and Paul, there are two more role models for such a dedication: Timothy and Epaphroditus. The first one is Timothy. Paul wants to send him to the Philippians. There you see that his concern for the Philippians did not stop, although he had committed them to the care of God. The one does not exclude the other. You should in love and faith hand over to God everything that preoccupies you. This does not mean that you do not realize your love and faith in practice.
The sending of Timothy was not an impulsive act that stood in contrast to the fact that he had handed over everything to God. That is why it is said expressly “I hope in the Lord Jesus”. He did it ‘in the Lord Jesus’, in fellowship with Him and in subordination to Him. He was convinced that he had the approval of God.
The sending of Timothy is a further evidence of the selflessness of the apostle. How he would have loved to have kept Timothy with himself. He however thought not of himself but of the believers and their needs. At the same time Timothy could report back to Paul as to how things went with the Philippians. He has great interest in them.
Genuine interest is not satisfied with a general impression of the situation, even though there are no reasons for concern. Genuine interest is not transient but profound and rejoices to know the specialties of those whom they love. Paul was not concerned that he would have to hear negative reports, for he knew them too well. But it would be good to his mind if he learned of all their circumstances.
Philippians 2:20-Ecclesiastes :. In the further explanation with regard to the mission of Timothy there sounds a minor tone. In explaining the mission of his beloved child he says that there was no one like-minded as he was. The choice was limited to a single person. All others who could be eventually sent to Philippi did not have the spiritual maturity for this purpose.
Timothy was genuinely interested in welfare, but not in his own welfare, but of those of others. In this he was like the Lord Jesus (Philippians 2:3-Numbers :) and also like Paul (2 Corinthians 12:14). The Philippians would be benefitted when Timothy is sent to them. If you read closely, you will understand how his interests for the Philippians were equivalent to the interests he had for Jesus Christ. If we seek after the interest of others then we seek after the interest of Christ (cp. Matthew 25:40). Is this not a wonderful motive to work for the interests of others?
Philippians 2:22. Timothy was not unknown to the Philippians. They did not know him from a distance. They knew that he was a man with the necessary experiences. He was tested along with Paul in the service of the gospel. Certainly it is not a holiday tour to work somewhere along with Paul. Many young people began a work for the Lord enthusiastically, but they did not think of the costs and therefore after a short or long time they threw in the towel.
But not Timothy. This was due to the close relationship he had with Paul. It is wonderful to see a harmonious relationship of an older with a younger believer. They had not yet heard of a generation gap. And it cannot exist when the hearts of the older and the younger are filled with the mind of Christ.
The loyalty of Timothy was evident in his love for Paul. I think that even today it is easy to stand against the headwind and continue further if we have love for Paul. I mean love for the letters he has written, and that we assume the attitude of a child. A child is eager to learn and acts accordingly. A child does not argue and is also not impertinent. A father-child relationship shapes the child and gives content and power to the work that must be done.
Timothy’s spiritual maturity was so developed that Paul could send him to Philippi. He could do the work independently. He was not only independent but he also did it in the same mind as Paul. When Timothy was with them, it was as though Paul himself was with them. He puts Timothy on par with himself.
Philippians 2:23-Jeremiah :. However Paul had a little reservation with regard to the sending of Timothy. He wanted to know a little more about his own circumstances. That is concerning his imprisonment. When that is clear he would send Timothy. He believes that God would give him also the opportunity to come to them as a follow-up of Timothy’s coming to them. He tells them beforehand so that they could look forward with joy to the visit of their beloved Paul.
His heart yearns for them and he knows that their hearts are longing for him. When hearts are longing for each other, they lay it before the Lord and ask Him to fulfill this longing.
Now read Philippians 2:17-24 again.
Reflection: Where do you see in this passage that Paul is very similar to the Lord Jesus?
The Work of Christ
Philippians 2:25. From the love of Paul to the Philippians we can understand that soon Paul would send Timothy to them. However it could still take some time till Timothy actually departed. But there was someone else he could send in the meantime and that was Epaphroditus. Paul “thought it necessary” to send him. That is, he saw a clear reason, a need that must be satisfied. He mentions this a little later. First however he says something about Epaphroditus.
We know nothing about him more than what we hear in this letter, indeed in this passage and in chapter 4 (Philippians 4:18). From the last verse we understand that the Philippians had sent their gift to Paul through Epaphroditus. His name means lovely or attractive. This name fits in well with the picture that we get of him.
The designations that Paul gives of him speak of the picture of a person who is a Christian in all areas of his life. He radiated that in the family circle of God (“brother”) and he also beamed it in the service of the Lord in the world (“fellow worker”) and also in the fight that a faithful and dedicated proclamation of the gospel brings with it (“fellow soldier”). He was also a man who maintained contacts between a local church and a servant somewhere else.
Paul was not a man who made cheap compliments. What he said of Epaphroditus showed what kind of man he was. From the examples mentioned above perhaps you could think: ‘I cannot compare myself with all these people. First of all I cannot compare with the Lord Jesus; for He excels everyone and in everything; I cannot also compare with Paul; for he was such a gifted man with a special place; and really I cannot compare myself with Timothy; for he had the great privilege of being the closest to Paul to learn from him what it was to live a real Christian life.’
But now the person under discussion is Epaphroditus. He was someone like you and me and that means what can be said of him, can also be said of us. Epaphroditus is held as a mirror. If you think that you cannot reach up to the standard of the earlier examples (although they were given for your orientation) you can very well emulate the example of Epaphroditus.
In any case the first thing that is said of him is for you. You are a brother or a sister by the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, like all those who have the life of God through the same faith in the Lord Jesus. It is something great to know this fact. This means that you also must behave yourself accordingly. Is it not wonderful that you know you are one with the children of God, with this unique company which indeed is in the world but is not of the world?
Epaphroditus did not stop with this. He did not seclude himself as an escapist with a book in his hand on his easy chair to be amused by the tremendous blessings of being a brother. His eyes were open to see the needs among the believers and the workers of the Lord. He was also a fellow worker of Paul in the preaching of the gospel. Paul does not call him a worker but a “fellow worker”. He worked not only by himself but he sought the fellowship of Paul in the work. He committed himself for the work of the Lord.
When necessary, if the work demanded it, he would fight and not step aside. For him the work of the Lord was not the execution of only all that was enjoyable. Whoever is working for the Lord will feel the resistance of satan in every way. It was so for Paul, and it was so for Epaphroditus, and it will be so for you if you want to abound in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). Paul could begin something with such people. The Lord also can begin something today with such people. It is to be feared that such people are scarce. But this can be said of us if we emulate Paul’s teachings, his life style and his ministry as written in the New Testament.
Still further Epaphroditus was also a “messenger”. The church in Philippi sent him with a mission. He had accepted this mission. Nothing is said about his family situation. We do not know if he was married. In any case he had to leave behind everything that was familiar to him and take a long and dangerous journey in those days. But he did it because his brothers and sisters had asked him.
His mission was to take a gift on behalf of the Philippians and hand it over to Paul who was imprisoned in Rome. By doing this he was a “minister to” the “need” of Paul. By the word minister Paul conveys the idea that he accepted their gift as an offering. It is really nice to consider every material gift like this – as an offering, by means of which you express your appreciation for others.
Philippians 2:26. Then Paul gives another great testimony about Epaphroditus. Here the bond of love between Epaphroditus and the Philippians is expressed in a very beautiful way. Epaphroditus became sick and they in Philippi heard of it. Now Epaphroditus is worried about the impact of the news. He is so convinced of the love of his fellow believers that he is now worried about their worry about his illness. Therefore he wants them to know quickly about his condition. He also was someone who did not seek after his own interests but those of others.
Philippians 2:27. Paul does not mince words. Epaphroditus was really sick almost to death. Even Paul was seriously worried about it. Would he lose a valuable fellow worker, a man who lived entirely for the Lord and for His people? Already such people are few and far between. This thought added to the many sorrows which he had had due to many other things which happened in the churches. He speaks even of “sorrow upon sorrow”. It was not a sorrow because of a benefit that he would lose by the death of Epaphroditus, but because of the service the churches would lose.
For Paul the restoration of Epaphroditus was a proof of God’s grace upon Epaphroditus, as well as upon himself. God had healed Epaphroditus, not Paul, although he could have done that (Acts 19:11-2 Kings :). Even the greatest healer the church had ever known, left this matter up to God. He did not believe that disease always had to be fought as a consequence of sin. God had His intentions and Paul submitted to it (cp. 2 Timothy 4:20).
Philippians 2:28. So he knew what it meant to worry about Epaphroditus, and it was a great relief for him to know from experience that God works for good through the turn of events. The Philippians also should rejoice in this as soon as possible. That is why he urged Epaphroditus to hasten his journey to Philippi. That would make them happy, and Paul in turn will be less sad.
Philippians 2:29. He exhorted the Philippians to “receive” this man in a way that would be fitting for what he was meant for the Lord. It also should not be a fleeting show of honor. We often forget fast what someone did for the Lord. People like Epaphroditus should be considered as a great gift from God. They are rare but they are still found today. Still further: even you can be one or can become one like him. If you honor such people, it will be because their lives speak to you.
Philippians 2:30. I think, there arises a desire in you to live like them. Such a life is possible for you. That means not to love your life even unto death (Revelation 12:11) in which you are fully committed to the work of Christ. Here you are looking for the welfare of your brothers. Brotherly love is ready to lay down the life for the brothers (1 John 3:16).
So it was with Epaphroditus. Paul’s words seem to indicate that his illness was in connection with his trip. He made this trip on behalf of the mission of the church in Philippi. He came to hand over the gift to Paul. In that he added what was still deficient in the service of the Philippians to Paul. To do that, Epaphroditus had risked and jeopardized his life (Judges 5:18).
Your life is your most valuable possession. When you risk it, you mean that you dare to do something but you are unsure of its outcome. However you do it in view of the full benefit it can bring. The only motive that one undertakes such a venture is love (1 John 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:8).
For a moment it seemed things did not go well with Epaphroditus. However through his recovery God had shown how much He had appreciated his dedication. Yes, it was an expression of the mind of Christ Who never sought Himself but was obedient unto death, yes, even unto death on the cross.
It looks as if something was still deficient in the service of the Philippians. What exactly that was is not clear. Paul does not reprove them for this. In a way that belongs to the heartwarming tone of this letter Paul says that the mission of Epaphroditus has completed that deficiency. We can learn much from this kind of exhortation.
Now read Philippians 2:25-30 again.
Reflection: Would you like to be someone like Epaphroditus? Why or why not? If yes, what is necessary for that in your case? (Do not hesitate to ask others for advice.)
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Philippians 2". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany